Because a bare cupboard and an empty fridge are sad sights to behold, the Urban Forager hunts through food & wine shops bringing home tasty morsels that make your kitchen table the best place to eat in town.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Getting Pickled

Wedged between the cookbooks in my kitchen are pages I’ve ripped out of various magazines, a paper trail of culinary aspirations that I'll probably never get around to: cooking up a batch of mozzarella cheese, brewing ginger ale, making marshmallows from scratch, stocking my cupboard with jars of homemade raspberry jam and tomato sauce. Having these recipes lying around for years could be depressing, but I actually find them comforting. Every so often I flip through the articles and recipes, never losing hope that one day I'll fill my pantry with whatever it is I’ve finally canned or pickled. But in the meantime, I’m thankful for rick’s picks. Rick is a man who began making pickles as a hobby in his Brooklyn kitchen, somehow found and attended an international pickle competition, and walked away with six ribbons and a “Best of Show” Award. Understandably, victory at the pickle competition inspired Rick to think big, and now his pickled concoctions are showing up in stores across the country. Rick’s picks are available all over New York, at the Cheese Store of Silverlake in Los Angeles, A Southern Season in Chapel Hill and numerous others states.
Fresh, natural ingredients, unusual flavor combinations, and quirky product names set rick’s picks apart. Smokra is pickled okra with smoked paprika, Spears of Influence are cucumber spears in a cumin-scented brine, Bee n’ Beez are “turbocharged” bread and butter pickles and Phat Beets are beets pickled in a rosemary-scented brine. There are ten flavor combinations so far, and counting. I commend Rick for not only making time in his life to take up pickling as a hobby, but for going one step further and turning it into a full-fledged business. Supporting Rick's dream is simple: At your next BBQ think about how delicious some Mean Beans (green beans pickled in a cayenne-dill brine) would be next to a scoop of potato salad and how great those turbocharged pickles would be on a burger.
And by the way, if I do ever dig out that old recipe I have for brewing ginger ale, you all will be the first to know.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gin and Cheese

Let me first be clear that gin and cheese have nothing in common except for being two of my favorite things. I don't recommend pairing them together but if, for example, you were at a cheese and wine tasting and then later that afternoon needed something to refresh your palate, well, gin might be just the thing.
It all began this past Saturday at the Seattle Cheese Festival, a yearly gathering of cheese geeks at Pike Place Market. At the festival, cheesemakers from all over the Pacific Northwest sample and sell their products and seminars are offered throughout the day. I attended a seminar that paired six Pacific Northwest artisan cheeses with four different northwest wines and discussed the best cheese and wine combinations. At the very beginning of the seminar, one of the instructors said something that summed up my own personal cheese and wine pairing philosophy: "If you like the cheese, and you like the wine, you'll probably like the pairing."
As someone who has at various times made her living suggesting cheese and wine pairings to people, I'm going to let you all in on a little secret: there are very, very few cheese and wine combinations that are so gastly they will ruin your night. At a cheese and wine tasting seminar people take a bite of cheese and a little sip of wine and furrow their brow and think very hard about all the flavors in their mouth. In real life, people don't eat that studiously. Since cheese and wine are such natural companions, most any combination you put together will taste pretty darn good. So what I found most enjoyable about the tasting at the Cheese Fest was not the pairing of the wines and cheeses, but the opportunity to taste cheeses that are difficult or completely impossible to find outside of Washington or Oregon. I can't refer you to stores across the country where all of you can taste these cheeses because most artisanal cheesemakers only make enough cheese to sell to a handful of local stores and restaurants. This, I think, is actually a great thing. It's exciting to witness the growth of regional foods and wines that have to be enjoyed in the place they are made. I also love that artisanal cheesemakers are committed to making small batches of their products by hand, rather than opening a huge factory so their cheese can be sold all over the country. If, however, you are ever in Seattle, you must stop at either DeLaurenti Market or Beecher's Cheese in Pike Place Market, which both offer a large selection of northwest cheeses.
The Seattle Cheese Festival is the type of event that inevitably leads to palate exhaustion. Too much wine and cheese can leave a girl parched, which leads to the gin... A friend I was staying with in Seattle served a thirst-quenching, refreshing cocktail that I highly recommend for summer sipping. If it wasn't raining so hard outside, we most definitely would have enjoyed our Basil Lavender cocktails sitting out on the deck. The base of the cocktail is Dry Soda, a lightly sweetened and subtly flavored soda available in lavender, rhubarb, lemongrass and kumquat. The company that makes Dry Soda is based in Seattle and currently sells their soda in the Pacific NW and California. We muddled minced basil leaves with gin, squeezed in some Meyer lemon, added ice and finished it off with the lavender soda. Any of the sophisticated Dry Soda flavors would pair well with either vodka or gin, and their low sugar content are a welcome change from syrupy-sweet mixers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lāloo goat ice cream

I’ve been wanting to buy Lāloo goat ice cream for about a year, but every time I reach for the half-pint the sticker shock dissuades me. Seven dollars is a lot to pay for ice cream, even if it comes from goats frolicking in Sonoma, CA in fields of “green grass and thistle berry in the warm Pacific breeze.” I haven’t decided if it’s cute or annoying that these goats have a better life than most of us, but there is something comforting about knowing the food you eat comes from a happy, healthy place. Also, the word on the street from cheesemakers I’ve spoken to is that raising goats is a little like having an entire herd of newborn babies, so if someone’s going to go through the trouble of raising goats, milking them, & then churning ice cream, they probably deserve every penny of that seven dollars.
As I get a little older and spoon-feeding myself Ben & Jerry’s is less of a pleasure and more of an instant stomachache, I’ve been keeping my eye open for ice cream that is a little more friendly to the digestive system. Lāloo Goat milk ice cream is exactly that. Goat’s milk is slightly lower in lactose than cow’s milk, which makes it easier to digest for the lactose intolerant crowd. Some people who think they are lactose intolerant are actually allergic to cow’s milk. The protein people are allergic to is not found in goat’s milk (or human milk). Goat’s milk is also naturally lower in fat and naturally homogenized, meaning the fat globules are small and remain suspended in the milk rather than separating out, again making it easier to digest. In cow’s milk, the fat globules are large enough that they will separate from the liquid. You may have noticed this before when you buy cream and have to shake it before pouring it so a lump of cream doesn’t drop into your coffee.
The flavor of Lāloo ice cream has none of the tanginess you might expect from goat's milk and tastes pretty much the same as cow’s milk. The main difference is the texture. The lower fat in goat’s milk is evident in the somewhat icy, rather than creamy, mouth-feel. I tried the Deep Chocolate flavor, but for me, chocolate is rarely at its best in a low-fat setting and it tasted a little cocoa-powder like. I recommend trying a flavor that will shine with less fat, such as Black Mission Fig, Strawberry Darling, or Lemon Chiffon. The line is sold at many natural food stores and larger gourmet grocery stores, and you can even get a coupon for $1.00 off if you visit the Lāloo website.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Coffee Snobbery

Admittedly, years of working in gourmet foods stores have given me somewhat of a particular palate. Still, I’ve never really considered myself a food snob. I enjoy a grocery store chunk of jalapeño Monterey Jack Cheese paired with a cheap beer, I still crave the hotdish my mom made out of ground hamburger and tater tots, and I’m certainly not above buying $5.00 olive oil at Trader Joes. But there is one area where I have to confess to full-fledged snobbery.
My name is Jenny and I am addicted to coffee.
Being that I still consider Seattle my hometown, this isn’t a big surprise. Some rumors about Seattle are not true (it really doesn’t rain everyday) and some are (people do wear fleece and running shoes to nice restaurants). And the rumor about the coffee? Completely true. Of all the cities I’ve lived in it is by far the easiest location to find a really good cup of coffee or a perfectly made espresso. For better or worse, this snobbery has been passed on to The Husband who has embarked on a personal mission to teach all baristas he encounters that a latte and a cappuccino are not the same thing. When we visit (or move to) a new city, the first mission is always staking out a good coffee joint. When we moved to Manhattan I thought the biggest challenge would be mastering the subway system. Contrer, Mon Frere. Turns out, finding a good cup o’ Joe in the big city is much, much harder. (so far, Think Coffee and The Tasting Room win) Thankfully, an influx of Pacific Northwest-trained baristas on the east coast have lifted the bar, especially in Brooklyn where The Husband finally found his perfect cappuccino (try St. Helen Cafe, or Gimme). On a recent visit to Chicago, I finally had the chance to visit Intelligentsia coffee shop, which also has a location in Los Angeles. I’d heard about Intelligentsia’s commitment to high quality coffee and espresso and to their growers around the world. They form personal relationships with their coffee bean growers and pay them at least 25% above the fair trading price for beans. What most astonished me about my visit, however, was when I was buying beans and the barista asked me what qualities I like in coffee, I stuttered and said, “Uh, I like it strong?” Me, who can think of hundreds of words to describe flavors in cheese and wine and who has been drinking two cups of coffee a day for most of my adult life, could not articulate the characteristics I love in a measly little coffee bean. The barista then said to me, “Strong isn’t actually a flavor” and I was officially humbled. He threw some words at me – fruity, smoky, chocolately – and somehow I still could not translate these words into tastes that came out of a cup of coffee. Did smoky mean that bad burnt flavor that Starbucks sometimes has? And fruity…have I ever tasted fruitiness in my morning cup? Chocolate…that sounded good, I guess.
I left with a pound of beans he recommended and a vow to start attending some of the Cupping seminars I’ve seen advertised at coffee shops like Peets and Victrola in Seattle. Cupping coffee is pretty much the same thing as wine tasting. It involves sniffing, slurping, comparing, and committing to memory what your senses have experienced. At this point, I may know how to taste when Pinot Noir is from Burgundy and when it’s from Santa Barbara, but I have no clue how tell if coffee is from Guatemala or Kenya. Since I am completely committed to being the coffee snob that I thought I was, hopefully this is something my palate will be able to pick up after some Cupping sessions. After that, the only remaining coffee mystery will be figuring out why coffee shops in New York don’t let you put your own milk in your coffee….